Favorites bands and favorite chord progressions

My favorite band is the Old 97’s. However, Freakwater would also be an honest answer (as would Gillian Welch). I can thank a super cool friend from high school for introducing me to the Old 97’s, a Bloodshot compilation for introducing me to Freakwater, while one of my college roommates properly introduced me to Gillian Welch.1  

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don't remember the venue)

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don’t remember the venue)

Freakwater appeared on Bloodshot’s first compilation album (way back in 1994), and subsequently was on Thrill Jockey for years. BUT coming in February 2016, according to the Freakwater Facebook page, “We will be releasing our eighth studio album this fall with our dear friends Bloodshot Records!!” So… since I wrote a dissertation on Bloodshot Records and all, and what with loving Freakwater, I’m really, really, REALLY excited about this.2   As Bloodshot noted today, you may have thought that Freakwater was already on Bloodshot, but this upcoming studio album is, in fact, the band’s first with the record label. You can hear the first single from the album here, and you can pre-order the album and/or get the 7″ single here.

The announcement of this single inspired me to listen to pretty much the entire Freakwater catalogue throughout the day today. As I listened to the song “Cricket Versus Ant” (Thinking of You, 2005), I was reminded of my most favorite chord progression, which is in this song: V/vi – vi, or III – vi, or a major three chord to the minor six. This song is in D Major, so the chord progression is F-sharp major to b minor. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “If it all goes terribly wrong” at 1:27 in the video below.

I have done absolutely no research on this progression; I just know that I always love it when it happens. I think I first noticed it when I had to play chord progression for a piano proficiency exam or something equally dorky, but I remember first LOVING when I heard it in a Dixie Chicks song, “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” (Wide Open Spaces, 1998).3   This song is in F Major, and in this case, the magical chords are A major to d minor in the chorus. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “Bartender, pour the wine” at 0:47 in the video below.

Isn’t it great? Sure, there are other secondary dominants that are nice, but this one is by far my favorite (and the best). Hooray for a new Freakwater album & hooray for V/vi – vi! Feel free to share examples with me!

1. The same high school friend likely introduced me to Bloodshot, or at least I was with her at CD Central (a fantastic record store in Lexington, KY) when I bought that compilation album.

2. At this point, I’m probably more excited about the album, rather than the research possibilities, but that’s a topic for another post.

3. This is the first song I look for if/when I ever karaoke. Seriously. Feel free to judge me.

Happy Friday: ’90s Music!

Yesterday, I encountered a lot of stuff (tweets, fb posts, public radio features, etc.) related to Nirvana and R.E.M. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, and in case you managed to miss it, R.E.M. announced their break-up on Wednesday.

As a person who researches “alternative” music (obligatory disclaimer acknowledging the contentious and multiple meanings of “alternative” and other genre categories), I can’t help but owe a debt to both of these bands and appreciate their roles in popular music history. The “alt” of alt.country is a (not-so-distant) cousin of the genre designation/lucrative marketing category that these two bands (in addition to countless others) helped create.

At the time, that is in the ’90s,* I wasn’t really into these two bands (although my first ‘big’ concert was R.E.M. at Rupp Arena for the Monster tour). I didn’t NOT like them, but in retrospect, it would have been much cooler for present-day me had I been bigger fans of both bands at the time.

Nevertheless, based on all the hubbub, I decided to listen to the entirety of Nevermind today (thanks, Spotify), and ended up spending more time with Nirvana than I had planned (professional procrastinator). I was surprised that I knew the album–and not just the famous songs/released radio singles. Maybe I had the cassette tape, but in any event, apparently I listened to this album way more than I remember.

It is impossible to separate all of the information I know about the band, Kurt Cobain, and the band and album’s place in popular music history from my listening experience today, but wow, I loved it. I’ve read that Cobain hated the “over-produced” sound of this album, but I think it still sounds pretty visceral, raw, and powerful, and anywhere from a little to a lot punk. I’ve mentioned before here that the aesthetics of “indie” and/or “punk” speak to me, and even though this is much more produced than <insert your favorite punk/indie band here> or even Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, it’s still rockin’ pretty hard (consider also that this album is always mentioned in the context of Michael Jackson on the pop charts).

So here’s a snippet to remind you…

If you haven’t heard Nevermind in its entirety in a while, I’m pretty sure you’re going to bump into it in the near future (cf. special 20th anniversary cd’s, dvd, boxed sets, etc.). Either way, give it a listen. And even if you don’t like it, you can appreciate it’s historical importance in relation to my research.

*I apologize for previous inconsistent and incorrect usage of apostrophes when it comes to decades. I intend to change my ways.